Is Best Buy making the best decisions?

Brands undergo a transformation from time to time. Some change their appearance, some launch new product lines, some make changes to their portfolio. But when a brand does a couple of these things all at the same time, it’s like watching a badly choreographed dance move.

About a month ago, Best Buy abruptly closed over 100 stores of its sister brand, Future Shop, only to reopen about 60 of them as Best Buy stores. They didn’t do this gradually or with consideration for the existing equity Future Shop had built, neither were they considerate for employees they laid off (employees have to reapply if they choose to work at Best Buy). As for customers, there were positive aspects of Future Shop that are now un-catered to. For instance, the instore auto section, that has now transitioned to Best Buy online. The service included providing guidance and also installation if required. Now that it’s online, the experience is diluted and if the wrong auto part is ordered, returns and re-ordering is a hassle. Future Shop even had better payment options on their credit card.

Best Buy in its feeble attempt to stay afloat, is making hasty choices that will do the business more harm than good. Currently focussing on Amazon as competition, they have launched “Market Place” – a section on their website where third party merchants can sell their products. Neither is this model unique to Best Buy nor will it salvage their plummeting sales figures. It’s an “I’ll have what they’re having” move. Amazon and E-bay have excelled at it with great customer service, free shipping policies, easy returns – not attributes Best Buy can hope to achieve right at the get go. Yes retail has experienced a huge online shift, but the brand experience needs to remain consistent with the traditional store. This market-place model does not do that.

Alot has been said about Best Buy shoppers not making it to check out and using the store to browse the latest technology and then purchasing elsewhere. Well, I don’t think Best Buy can or should attempt to price-match and would do better if they turned their attention to other aspects.

Not to sound like the grim reaper but Best Buy is knocking on death’s door with its current strategy(or lack of it). What the brand could be doing instead:
1. Enhance the in-store experience: Since the brick and mortar stores are still in operation, it would be a good idea to turn the focus on how to improve customer service, how to make Geek Squad more knowledgeable and helpful, find ways to reduce being under-stocked, enhance the store itself with brighter lighting and easier manoeuvrability.
2. Retain Future Shop’s merits: They might have closed the store but they should incorporate the aspects of FS that worked well for the brand(as mentioned above).
3. Improve the web experience: If they want to compete with Amazon, they shpuld start by making online purchases hassle-free in every way possible. Easy returns, free shipping where possible and providing indepth information on new technology would incentivize consumers to want to choose Best Buy.

Surviving as a Big Box electronic retailer at a time where choices are plenty and the shopper is highly tech aware is not an easy feat, even more reason for prompt transformations before the brand becomes a case study in bad business strategies.

I’d like some veggies with my vitamins

Thoughts on Shoppers Drug Mart now carrying fresh foods.

With the purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart by Loblaws, a recent test to sell fresh foods at thestore_ShoppersDrugMart drugstore chain has been underway. This won’t be the first time a store attempted to straddle categories and stock a wider array of goods than their core. After all, Canadian Tire sells kitchenware and car audio under the same roof. Alot has been written about whether this will be a success or fall on its face. Primary benefits being – SDM is open late hours, some even 24/7 and the chain is known for good quality. So I guess if you feel like grilling some sirloin at 2am, Shoppers is your best bet.

Trying to get people to buy fresh food at a chain associated primarily with medications might be a bit of a stretch although critics say it could be done. Packaged foods, sure. Frozen foods, could (maybe) work. Fresh foods? I think that crosses the line. Starting off with the obvious question of “how are you different from the competition?”. Walmart for instance – is open late hours and specializes in being a one stop shop, with unbeatable prices.
While trial and error might be the way to go when it comes to retail, there are a couple of consumer insights as to why the brand would be wise to leave fresh with Freshco or in this case, Loblaws.

  1. Medication is the motive, fresh foods might be happenstance
    Yes, Shoppers stocks alot more than prescriptions. However, the consumer mindset when walkfresh veging into a Shoppers Drug Mart is to walk out with either medicine, toiletries or a bag of chocolate to feed a late night craving. While I’m there, sure I might pick up a bag of cherries if its being sold, but that’s not what I’m going in there looking for. Also, Shoppers is an in and out kind of place – not a Loblaws, where one stops to browse. Shoppers is more like a QSR trying to enter the sit-down restaurant category. They don’t have the physical space (not all locations) nor the brand positioning to be viewed as a meat and veggie retailer.
  1. buying meatsConvenience’ and ‘fresh’ don’t jive
    Shoppers is known for convenience. It’s the place you can count on at midnight when you’re out of green tea and can’t fall asleep. Or if you’re in a hurry and can’t deal with long line-ups that Walmart is sure to have. However, when it comes to fresh foods, there’s a defined pause in your aisle browsing. You have to stop to examine the bananas and check the meat’s texture to lb. ratio. There’s a disassociation there that might be difficult to overcome.
  2. Credibility countsorganic
    Today’s label-reading consumer is conscious of what they consume. Non GMO, free range, certified organic and grass-fed are terms actively sought. Sure this might not be the market Shoppers is interested in, but if they did carry these products, how much credibility does a drug chain have in this department?
  3. Brand stretching and risk of failure
    The fresh foods category is always going through product recall, especially meats and vegetables. If Shoppers aims “to be the leader in helping Canadians discover a healthier outlook on life” as per their mission statement – I believe it’s important to steer clear of categories that could damage this reputation.

The rules of retail are always changing and what might seem illogical, sometimes gets adopted as the new normal. As Martin Lindstrom says in his book ‘Buyology’: “But like it or not, all of us consistently engage in behavior for which we have no logical or clear-cut explanation.”

I might be over thinking this one, but I’d love to hear your views and perceptions. Will tonight’s steak and potato dinner be picked up at your local drug store?

Instagram, not so insta anymore

instagram-video-appInstagram: the app that turned the average Joe into a pro photographer, boasts of over a 100 mn users as of February this year and was named app of the year by Apple in 2011(Source:Instagram blog). Its users have been snapping up their breakfast bagel, their awesome lives and even their bathroom tiles. Now, video comes to Instagram. 15 whole seconds of it. Suddenly the app’s Kaizen philosophy appears to have taken a detour.

In a scramble to have it all, the world of social media has progressively become somewhat akin to the Cola wars, with Facebook and Twitter at the helm. It started with Facebook buying Instagram and Twitter buying Vine. Then Facebook rolled out hash tags to get on par with its 140 character nemesis, and now, to take on Vine, Instagram launches video.

While this is all turning into one big content creation party, before you race out to shoot an #igram video to combat a burning FOMO starting to stir within you, consider this: it might not be watched.

The video app market is over fragmented with offerings, some merely differentiated by length constraints – there’s Viddy which allows upto 30 secs of footage, Keek, which allows 36 secs and Socialcam which is uncapped. Then there’s the recent Vine, which challenges your creativity with a 6 sec limitation,which in my opinion, can be fun if done right(my thoughts on Vine here).  Instagram brings its cache of awesome filters over to video, but has failed to ask itself a crucial question –is this just an attempt to compete with Vine and push a technology platform or will it enrich the current Instagram experience? I fear it takes away from it.

The platform might be amazing for its video shooting capabilities, I don’t doubt it. I can also see how this is a juicy bone for brands chasing the famed “content marketing” wagon. The caveat I offer to both would be, don’t bet on your friends/consumers being as amazed as you are with your #birthdayshenanigans and #soundsoftheocean clips, shot with the X-pro II filter.

micro-publishing media

In the online world of social publishing, there has been a gradual swing towards documenting micro-moments. Sharing is encouraged, but in mini morsels that can weave in and out of busy lives without being an interruption. Under these circumstances, 15 second footage of your life seems like a short film. More so if it’s shot in Lo-Fi. Instagram took the photo-sharing baton from Flickr and ran with it, when it comes to video however, the party may have moved elsewhere.

A sense of media fatigue has begun to set in; the popularity of Snapchat is right on the dime with the trend of see it and/or forget about it. Its ephemeral nature makes it interesting. Infact, brands looking to get on the next wave of social would do well looking into this app, especially for limited-time promo code offers and teasers.

What works for Vine is that it lined up with behavioural shifts (instant/fleeting/micro), Instagram-video is an offering that isn’t all that insta nor very differentiated and clutters an otherwise idle, scrolling user experience.

One can only hope there’s an opt out of the video stream.

Capitalizing on Piracy: turning a bad word into a useful arsenal

Its been done for eons now. My first tryst with piracy was before I even knew it had a name or was perceived to be a bad thing. As kids in school we were always compiling music CDs for each other – the source was usually a friend with a speedy internet connection who downloaded it off a torrent.

Not too long ago, getting content to an audience slowly started to become more important than monetizing it right away. The shift began with independent artists streaming their music online for free and encouraging listeners to pay what they could to download it.

Cut to 2013 and the era of Content being King. In the music world, it’s fast revamping the business model. Piracy implies getting something through illegal means/without paying for it – well, what if you remove the ‘illegal’ tag? It suddenly makes the act less enticing. Amanda Palmer says it beautifully in her TED talk, where she states “Don’t make people pay for music,let them”. The industry is moving from making people pay for content to allowing them the choice. It’s the best way to disarm the monster. Justin Timberlake for example, decided to stream his new album 20/20 online for free before making it available for purchase in stores. The zeitgeist has forked the business model – there’s now the free and the paid. And free isn’t hurting anyone’s bank account. If anything, allowing people to have something for free is turning passive listeners into supporters who sometimes choose to buy an album to show support for the artistDonating = Loving

It isn’t just the music industry that has realised this. HBO recently publicly declared that they consider piracy a form of flattery. Game of Thrones is among Pirate Bay’s top torrent download and the producers of the show aren’t afraid of it harming sales.

The obvious benefit is effective marketing and spreading to a wider audience base, but it also ups the pressure on content creators to increase perceived value of their offering.

What does this mean for branded content in other categories? I don’t have definitive answers, but here’s a few points to ponder:

– Hustlers inc: When you put the illegal tag on something, the offering becomes that much more sought after and knowing how to get it gives you social brownie points. In other words, holding back makes the offering sweeter for those who find a way to get it.

– Free for friends and family: Giving away something valuable for free makes people feel closer to you…you’ve invited them into your circle and made them a friend. This isn’t the same as promotional chachka, the consumer can tell the difference.

-Vulnerability is in: How can you let people support your brand? Showing vulnerability is one way of humanizing your brand and connecting with people. Like Amanda Palmer,like reddit or wiki, it’s okay to let people see you’re vulnerable and could use the monetary support. What incentive are you giving people for them to offer up some scrilla? (without expecting it as a given)

What once started out as a barter system of money for content is slowly evolving into an honour system, one that encourages the end user to come forth, be part of the creation process and make a contribution out of choice. The traditional purchasing model isn’t going anywhere, and shouldn’t either but maybe accepting piracy as a parallel model and embracing it won’t be such a bad thing. Thoughts?

Real Beauty still only skin deep?

A few days back a new campaign for Dove by Ogilvy Brazil began doing the rounds online. I am not going to feed the frenzy by describing it but its been wildly popular and has women sharing it to no end, upholding it like it’s the most liberating thing since the Bra Burning Movement of the 60’s. What this ad appears to give women is a sense of reassurance that they are more beautiful than they think. Typical Dove consumerist speak, nothing new there.
Earlier today I chanced upon a blog that put into words a nagging feeling that the video stirred up in me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The morally questionable aspects of this ad have been summed up well by the blogger. From an advertising perspective, the whole construct is on shaky ground.

A good insight that women are their own worst critics but the ad takes on a misleading execution. What about women being their own worst critics with their talents? Or with their careers? As a friend said to me “I generally feel very uncomfortable when people talk about beauty to describe only a person’s looks. So a whole ad about it feels very strange. I’d like to know more about her, you know?”  

What if Dove stood for empowering women to feel beautiful about themselves as a whole package? Why is beauty even being restricted to describing blonde hair and blue eyes? What this video did bring to light is how thick the smoke has become in this smoke and mirrors game. Our collective notions of what “beauty” is has been reinforced over the years, to a point where advertising is given a free pass to tell you that you’re actually an 8, not a 3 on this ‘beauty’ yardstick. And we clap for joy and feel empowered.

It raises some questions for the communications industry at large. In our efforts to dial-up the cause in cause marketing, are we sending out shallow messages wrapped in philanthropic outer wear? That video wasn’t created to push product, so no reason why it couldn’t push the boundaries. Have we lost our true north to craft communication that inspires and challenges obtuse thinking? Discovering a strong consumer insight is important, using it in an evocative and responsible way,crucial. There are brands that play within the boundaries of the Zeitgeist and brands that attempt to positively remould it; it would have been a thing of (real)beauty to see Dove do the latter.

BlackBerry10 saves the day?

It’s here. RIM, after months of being in hiding, has come out from behind the curtains and presented to the world, the BlackBerry10. Oh and they’ve changed the name of the company(to BlackBerry) while they were at it. Oh and they created a Super Bowl commercial too. If you’re reading between the lines, you might smell a faint whiff of desperation in the air. Classic case of rise of the underdog or the last cry of a falling empire?

For a company that was out of the scene for over 18 months(although they had a 4G LTE BlackBerry PlayBook launch at some point during this mobile market hiatus) and missed a big part of smartphone mania, to  launch a new phone and hope it turns things around seems like a tall ask. For a late-to-the-party entrant,it appears like this phone has alot riding on it – Brand Cachet. The company’s fortunes. Stocks. Consumer perceptions. Jobs.

While it may appear that I’m writing them off, I’ve been a believer in their offering. I’m aware there’s a whole market out there that loves their BlackBerry devices and swear by it, especially for its physical Querty keypad and efficiency in syncing business emails. Infact, that was a very good move to ensure there’s a non touchscreen variant(the Q10) as well – ensuring it doesn’t alienate its base consumer.

Although, I think their launch and marketing strategy could have been better. I’m going to take an objective stab at a few things I think they could have done from an advertising/marketing stand point

1. Superbowled?: While I thought the Super Bowl commercial was nice in terms of what it aimed to do(draw attention/cut through clutter), I’d like to know what metrics they were looking to affect. Awareness? Those who needed to know about this launch, already knew. And those who didn’t, weren’t going to stop right there and look it up. Afterall, this is at a point where consumer faith in the brand was fast diminishing. I feel like a constant reminder (Times Square activation for instance) might have possibly been better than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it superbowl attempt.

2. Built to keep you Moving: I liked this commercial for what it was trying to say – that this phone won’t get in the way of life(Reminded me of a old Windows phone commercial), however, without referencing BlackBerry Hub as the reason for this, it could get yawned at. Yes smartphones have moved from being just tech-packed offerings to providing smooth user experiences, but for a brand that’s been away so long, more focus on specs wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Another suggestion would be to have 15 sec spots created to highlight new product features.

3. So, who are you?: If a company is going to attempt to relaunch itself, after being incognito for a while, how about a branding commercial to go with it? Maybe a sneak peak into what goes on behind the scenes? A voiceover explaining what has changed? What this would do is melt the ice and bring a sense of relatability towards the company. Android,Apple(that’s the only time I’ll mentioned them in this post,I promise) and even Windows have built-up brand imagery; somehow BlackBerry falls short here.

4. Wow me: The BlackBerry Balance and Peek and Flow are two very unique and interesting features that could have used a little more spotlight. Put it down to Canadian modesty if you must, but the smartphone market is already divided between Apple, Android and lately, Windows; if you want people to talk about you when you haven’t been around for a while, you might want to blow your own trumpet a bit.

5. Hold onto the attention: BlackBerry needs a game plan for what they intend to do after the initial launch excitement dies down. They’ve managed to stir the market up quite a bit, it would be nice if they retained consumer attention and market buzz – either through teasing out the phone’s features through advertising, constant audience engagement or (like its PlayBook offering) look at branching out into other gadget markets?

I believe that the BlackBerry10 will be a good phone and live up to all that it promises. It looks poised to win a chunk of the Droid and Apple market over as well. What I’m rooting for however, is to see if the brand can make a full circle comeback. I’d like to see that happen. 

Small cars,big appeal : Branding lessons from the small car market

I could start this post by telling you that the Canadian consumer’s growing appetite for fuel economy and eco-consciousness has made the small car category the fastest growing segment this year. (44% ahead of where it was in 2011). But I don’t see you being impressed.

Sure, the 44% increase as compared to 2011 might sound intriguing, but a fuel-efficient ride and packed with all the goodness of a midsize, what’s not to like? Instead, I thought of looking at small car communication and previous learnings to explore what other factors are at work here.

My tryst with the automotive category goes back a few years. I was a planner with Law&Kenneth, the Indian agency that handled the Skoda (the Czech car company later bought over by VW) account. We were tasked with the launch strategy for the Skoda Fabia, a hatchback, that would be giving the Indian car market a new sub-category – ‘the luxury small car’Skoda had garnered a notable cachet among car enthusiasts for its previously launched sedans. It earned its reputation for quality engineering, a sturdy chassis and luxury cues.This offering of luxury in a hatchback however, was a new concept. We realised we were late to the ‘performance/mileage/speed’ party, and besides, the Fabia was a notch above its competition – in price especially. So we used an emotional hook – Feel Special

The market lapped it up after initial hesitation.

Car learning number one: Choosing a car is an emotional decision, backed by rationale. Rationale is used as post-purchase justification.

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Later at Miami Ad school, 2 out of the 12 case studies I worked on, were car brands…and coincidently, small cars – Smart Car and a student pitch for the yet to be launched, Chevy Sonic. (See cases here). I realised that small cars have a tendency to portray themselves in ways that are in stark contrast to the mother brand. Smart Car belonging to the Mercedes-Benz stable, for example. I think it’s beneficial; that way negative rub-offs from either end of the spectrum don’t affect the entire brand line. For that matter, even the Mini was deliberately encouraged to grow its own following and stand apart from the corporate culture of the BMW brand. That was probably BMW’s smartest move; and MINI ran with it, creating a cult following.

Car learning number two: Sometimes consciously letting a variant find its own niche can work in the best interest of the brand. 

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Compact car branding revolves around more fun-to-drive/relatable themes, like the Epic Reliability spot for the Toyota Yaris or the 2011 Chevy Cruze campaign that was plastered across the city.

There’s a certain chutzpah that small cars own; consumer-led possibly, but I think sedans and crossovers can learn something here.

Car learning number three:  Category codes can be inhibiting – it’s okay to switch it up. Being vibrant in communication does not have to be a small car-only cue and luxury does not have to mean pretentious. Beautiful example: The 2013 Dodge Dart. Sedan-sized car, but still calls itself a compact and advertises like one too. 

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While my final point is not specific to small cars, it’s a learning from the auto industry that I think CPG goods in particular,could take a hint from. The dealership experience.  Crucial part of the consumer journey for every car brand, and vital to every marketeer’s plan. In my opinion, the dealership are to cars what retail is for packaged goods. How can the experience be amped up? Can digital and the real world come together to cement the brand-consumer bond? I’ll let the futuristic Audi City dealership experience answer that one.

I’d like to hear your thoughts!